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Feb 26

From BEGINNER to WINNER: How to become a professional face painter from scratch.

How to become a professional face painter

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

– Dr. Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1980)

I get a lot of emails from eager beginners asking me how they can get started earning money from face painting straight away. Before they’ve even picked up a brush. If you’re starting out as a face painter or body painter, my advice is always this:

Invest in yourself first.

Now I know that this sounds like motivational speaker jargon, but bear with me here.

For some reason, people see face painting as a lucrative business that is cheap to set up and takes little to no skill to get started. This could not be further from the truth! Setting up a face painting business is far more than buying a few face paints and a stack of business cards and just going for it. There are so many costs you don’t think about when you start out, and guess what? They’re all the boring compulsory things that every other business has to pay for too. Things like business name registration, domain name registration, website hosting costs, website building & maintenance costs, public liability insurance, equipment insurance, regular police checks, testing fees, annual membership fees – I could go on for paragraphs but I don’t want you to die of boredom.

There are also specific face painting things like equipment, tools, products, costumes and kit items that snowball into astronomical amounts before long when you realise that what you’ve got isn’t enough to do the next job adequately (not to mention meet your customers’ high expectations) and you need to upgrade, fast. This means that most face painters pour every cent of profit back into their business for several years before they are even able to start paying themselves for their time. Does that sound like a lucrative business model to you? Trust me – it’s not. If it were I’d be driving a nicer car and be able to afford a mortgage.

But this article isn’t even about that. This is about having respect and passion for the skill involved. This is about falling in love with face painting.

Expecting to make money from a skill that you don’t have yet is like putting the cart before the horse – you’ve got it backwards! Ever watched a professional face painter at work and thought “Hey, that looks easy!”? What you don’t see are the hours of practice that face painter has undertaken behind the scenes to make it look easy. Face painting takes a huge amount of skill to master, and it’s not just artistic skill if you want to go pro – you need excellent social skills and business skills to turn it into something that can support you. How can you start a business doing something that you don’t even know you like yet? It’s like deciding to marry someone before you’ve gone on your first date. Woah there, slow down! What ever happened to taking the time to fall in love?

So rather than putting the cart before the horse, here’s my advice on how to start your face painting career the right way.

1) INVEST IN LEARNING so that you have the knowledge to make the right choices when buying your kit.

This really is a case of a stitch, in time, saving nine. Most people start their face painting journey by aimlessly browsing through art shops without a clue, buying whatever the person behind the counter tells them (even though they secretly have no clue either), then ending up with sub par products that they don’t even know how to use. Trust me – I know this because I’VE BEEN THERE. I wish that 13 years ago when I started out there was an expert somewhere that I could have consulted to start off on the right foot. Instead, I took the slow and painful road of big mistakes.

Thank heavens for you that this is 2016. There are workshops, blogs, and YouTube channels out the wazoo! Book yourself in to a beginners face painting workshop and get learning! With the right knowledge, you don’t waste time and money on substandard products or stuff you never use. You also have the added bonus of a little bit of direction to get your skills started, and you get to meet other people at your skill level that you can practice with and motivate each other. Win!

Once you’ve got a little knowledge under your belt and you are confident that you know exactly what to put in your kit, then you can move on to the next step…

2) INVEST IN GREAT PRODUCTS AND TOOLS.

Cheap products look cheap, and perform cheaply. In short, they’re hard to use and they make your art look bad. When I started out I had that gross “non-toxic” liquid paint that was the only thing available in my little hometown back then (it’s still around, but I won’t name names!). Although at the time I thought I was doing OK, I found that I got to a point where no matter what I did my work wasn’t improving. It was really frustrating and I nearly gave up.

Jump forward a couple of years to when a friend introduced me to a professional brand and better brushes, and BOOM! The learning curve was steep, but once I got the hang of the new products, my work started to improve dramatically. It was only then I realised that the cheap stuff was holding me back. The other thing I realised was that the good stuff lasted sooo much longer, so when you took that into account it wasn’t actually more expensive at all! I felt like such a dork for not realising it sooner.

Not only will top quality professional products make your work look better, but they’re easier to use and so you will improve as an artist so much faster, saving you time and money in the long run. You don’t need every colour under the sun, and you can economise by buying only the basics to start off with. But seriously, invest in the good stuff from the beginning. You won’t regret it.

Now an amazing kit full of amazing products and tools is nothing without a skilled artist to wield them, so here’s the bit that everyone dreads…

3) INVEST IN PRACTICE.

They say it takes 10,000 hours of guided practice to become a master at any skill. Ten. Thousand. HOURS. I’m not saying that you need to sit there and practice your tear drops for 10,000 hours before you can say that you’re good at them, but you do need to put in the time to practice deliberately, and practice often. You need time to work things out. Building your skills as an artist takes a LOT of time.

Practice on your arm, your kids, your own face, your neighbours – whoever will stay still long enough. And if nobody will, get a practice mat or practice head or even a visual art diary and practice some more. Volunteer for that charity event or your local school fete. You need to put in the hours to gain the experience you need to become a pro. We’ve all had to do it. And it’s not easy.

I’ve seen it a lot. In almost every beginner’s class, there’s that one person who attempts a tear drop, doesn’t get it right the first time, and so they put their brush down and go “Too hard! Let’s forget about that. What’s next?” That person may as well walk out the door then and there, because if they give up that easily at the beginning, they’re seriously going to struggle when the difficulty gets turned up to eleven.

Just like your children don’t get out of practicing scales on the piano, or warm ups and drills when training at their sport, you don’t get a “get out of practice free” card for the boring bits either! This is the hard part, and where most people give up. Because getting good at something is HARD. It’s often BORING. And it takes AGES. It’s easy to throw money at something, but putting in the hours, even when it’s difficult and you’re not feeling it, is something that nobody can do for you, no matter how much you pay them. It’s all up to you. You need to persevere through this to get enough skill and experience to become an expert.

But here’s the thing – you’re not alone! This is why you should…

4) KEEP INVESTING IN LEARNING.

Did you note the words “guided practice” in that last point? Not random practice, or I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing-right-now practice, but GUIDED practice. Practicing without a plan or feedback is like sitting down to play a piano concerto in front of an audience without having had a single piano lesson. It can be terrifying, daunting, and make you want to quit. That’s why being inspired and guided by experts is so important in developing your skills as an artist.

You need to attend workshops and go to conventions when you have the money. When you don’t have the money – jam with other artists, research new techniques, hunt for inspiration, watch instructional videos on YouTube, read guides, and immerse yourself in everything face painting related. This will help you figure out styles that you like and don’t like, techniques that come naturally to you and things you need to work on, and generally give you direction for your own practice. You will find that after being inspired by a workshop, you will hit a steep learning curve that might feel a bit rocky to begin with, but if you stay motivated and persevere your skills and style will improve dramatically. After a steep rise the learning curve will plateau, and you’ll get bored again with your current designs or techniques… so that’s when you attend another workshop or find another bit of inspiration and start the curve up again.

No matter how good you get as an artist, YOU NEVER STOP LEARNING. The learning curve never stops, unless you do. You will get better and better if you keep challenging yourself and finding new inspiration. But if you rest on your laurels, or develop the attitude that you’ve learned everything you can and there’s no point in challenging yourself anymore, that curve won’t just plateau; it will plummet.

This is why you have to…

5) KEEP INVESTING IN PRACTICE

Remember that practice thing? That thing you have to do all the time even when you don’t feel like it? Well guess what? Just like learning, YOU CAN NEVER STOP PRACTICING. Practicing and learning go hand in hand. You’ve learned something new? Great! Guess what – it won’t sink in and become a new skill until you practice it. Practice it goooood and proper.

Sure, you might get to a point where your skills are pretty good and you can get through a full day of face painting like a breeze. Never had to check your phone for inspiration. You could do a butterfly with your eyes closed. You’re great! BUT, you can always be better. Nobody’s perfect, and the face painting industry is growing all around you all the time. There are new products on the market every day. Styles change and go in and out of fashion. The quality and standard of work is getting better and better like a rising tide, and customers’ expectations are rising along with it. Rest on your laurels for long enough, and the tide will overtake you. To be competitive and keep up, you need to put aside time to practice to improve along with everyone else and raise the bar together.

But guess what? If you’ve come this far, chances are that you’ve developed a healthy respect for the skill and effort it takes to become a good face painter, and you might even start to… dare I say it… ENJOY practicing! You actually WANT to be better. Actually, you want to be the BEST face painter you can be! This is where practice becomes fun, and you gain so much more confidence in your skills and abilities. Can it be? You may have just… fallen in love with face painting.

6) REPEAT STEPS 4 & 5… FOREVER AND EVER UNTIL DEATH DO YOU PART.

You’ve made it! If you’ve stuck at it through all that, chances are you are pretty confident by now. Someone could call you right now and say “Can you come face paint at *insert weirdly themed event* tomorrow?” and you’re like “Yep – piece of cake!” You don’t need to email that other more experienced face painter every other day with a new question. A client asks you a question and you answer with confidence. You make decisions for your business with confidence. You feel confident to charge the going rate as a face painter in your city because you KNOW that you are worth it. Because you have INVESTED IN YOURSELF, you know better than anyone what you’re worth. You believe in yourself. When you believe in yourself, and believe in your skills, and believe you truly have something to offer others as a good face painter, then other people will believe in you too. Enough to pay you. Properly.

THAT is when you become a professional face painter.

I hope that you found this article fun and useful! If you liked it, please feel free to share. Remember I do teach workshops regularly, and I even have a custom workshop up my sleeve for people wanting to “go pro” with face painting. Contact me if you’re interested!

And don’t forget to pay me a visit on Facey, Twitter and Insta and say hi! Best of luck on your face painting odyssey. Enjoy the process!

– Suedy @ JuicyBodyArt.com

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